Celebration marks 1st anniversary of jail dog training program

Inmate Richard Velazquez stands with a current pup in training, Jenna, who was rescued from a Korean meat farm, during the Project Good Dog celebration at the Worcester County Jail & House of Correction on Friday. T&G Staff/Christine Hochkeppel
Worcester Telegram
By Christian Yapor Correspondent

Posted Jun. 10, 2016 at 6:04 PM
Updated Jun 10, 2016 at 10:55 PM

WEST BOYLSTON – On Friday, Richard Velazquez, an inmate at the Worcester County Jail and House of Correction, expected visitors to celebrate the one-year anniversary of a program that changed his life. As he knelt down to greet his guests, they wagged their tails and licked his face.

Project Good Dog, a program launched in April 2015, is a partnership between the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office and the Second Chance Animal Shelter. In the program, needy shelter dogs were paired with inmates who provided the dogs with full-time care and training.

“The Second Chance Animal Shelter brings these dogs to us, and they train our inmates to work with these dog within an eight to 12 week program for free,” said Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis.

Sheriff Evangelidis said 23 dogs have participated in the program, 20 have been adopted, and eight have been adopted by staff.

These dogs have come from various walks of life, including negligent homes, transfers from other shelters, and surrenders. A few, like Jenna, one of their newest dogs in the program were even rescued from Korean meat farms, where they would have been slaughtered for human consumption.

“When they have those dogs, what we have noticed is that in the entire block, the stress level has dropped,” Sheriff Evangelidis said. “We create compassionate people, and it has made the officers feel much safer working in this environment.”

“The guys (inmates) have attitudes,” said Mr. Velazquez, an inmate for the last 20 years. “But when the dogs are there, they forget about that, because they just want to have fun with the dogs, so it’s a win-win situation for everybody.”

Because inmates and shelter representatives work together to train the dogs in this facility, the shelter is able to get the dogs adopted more quickly.

“This program means a lot to these dogs because it gives them an opportunity to be adopted much faster,” said Lindsay Doray, Adoption Center Manager at the Second Chance Animal Shelter. “We get a lot of dogs that are either crazy and have no manners, or they come in and they are scared to death, they have never had the interaction they are able to get up here.”

Just before the dogs are about to graduate from the program, the shelter posts them online so by the time they make it back from the jail to the shelter, they have a home lined up.

Marc Lajoie, of Spencer, adopted Hershey, a graduate of the program. “You can tell from what an affectionate dog he is, that he had a great home when he was here,” Mr. Lajoie said.

“He came to us as a very happy, very friendly dog, not an aggressive bone in his body.”

Bill and Kathleen Carlson, of Southwick, adopted Brewzer last October. “With the Good Dog Program, he was all set, it was like an ‘out of the box dog,’ he knew how to do basic things already,” Mr. Carlson said.

“When the dogs go into a good home, I feel better,” Mr. Velazquez said.

At the end of the ceremony, Sheriff Evangelidis presented the Second Chance Animal Shelter with an official citation from the Worcester County Sheriff’s Department.

“In recognition of the one-year anniversary of Project Good Dog; helping shelter pets live better lives while helping incarcerated individuals turn their lives around,” the sheriff said. “When an inmate leaves here and is less likely to offend, we all win.”